Peterborough is a Cathedral City and Unitary Authority Area in the East of England, with an estimated population of 184,500 in June 2007. For ceremonial purposes it belongs to the county of Cambridgeshire. Situated 75 miles north of London, the city stands on the River Nene which flows into the North Sea approximately 30 miles to the north-east. The railway station is an important stop on the East Coast Main Line between London and Edinburgh.
Peterborough in "A Topographical Dictionary of England" edited by Samuel Lewis (1848)
PETERBOROUGH (St. John the Baptist), a city having separate jurisdiction, the seat of a diocese, and the head of a union and of the hundred of Nassaburgh, or liberty of Peterborough, in the N. division of the county of Northampton, 42 miles (N. E. by E.) from Northampton, and 79 (N. by W.) from London; containing, with the precinct of Minster-close, and exclusively of the chapelries of Dogsthorpe, Eastfield with Newark, and Longthorpe, in that part of the parish which is without the city, 6107 inhabitants. The original name of this place, according to ancient records, was Medeswelhamsted, or Medeshamsted, derived by some from a whirlpool that existed in that part of the river Aufona, now the Nene, near which the town was built. According to Brydges, the name, signifying a meadow, village, or site, is derived from the local peculiarity of rich meadows extending along the banks of the river. During the heptarchy, Peada, fifth king of Mercia, having embraced the Christian faith, about 655 laid the foundation of a monastery, which was completed by his brother Wulf here, in atonement for having murdered his own sons for their attachment to the Christian doctrine, prior to his own conversion to Christianity. From this establishment, which was dedicated to St. Peter, and soon became celebrated for the magnificence of its buildings and the richness of its endowments, the town derived the name Petriburgus, whence its present appellation. The monastery continued to flourish until about the middle of the ninth century, when the Danes, having laid waste the neighbouring country, plundered the town, massacred the monks, and burnt the conventual buildings. In this state of desolation it remained for more than a century, till it was restored by Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, with the assistance of King Edgar, and of Adulph, the king's chancellor, who appropriated all his wealth to the rebuilding of the monastery, of which, after its restoration, he was made abbot.
In the reign of the Conqueror, Hereward, the last of the Anglo-Saxon warriors who distinguished themselves by their exploits, hearing that William had given away his paternal lands to a Norman, set sail from Flanders whither he had retired, and having landed in Lincolnshire, made an incursion into this city, and setting fire to the gates and out-buildings of the convent, which he was unable to storm, opened for himself a passage through the flames, plundered the treasury, and having committed various outrages, retired to his ships with an immense booty. Against this invader, and for the protection of the abbey from similar attacks, Abbot Turold erected a fort or castle, which, from his name, was called Mont Turold: this mound, or hill, is on the outside of the deanery garden, and is now called Tot-hill or Toothill. In 1116, the monastery and town were greatly injured by fire, an accident to which may be attributed the existence of the present cathedral, commenced two years afterwards by Abbot Salisbury; and at this period the town, which had previously stood on the eastern side of the monastery, was rebuilt in the situation it now occupies. The place suffered materially in the war between John and the confederate barons, many of whom took refuge in the monastery here and in Crowland Abbey, from which sanctuaries they were forced by the king's soldiers, who plundered the religious houses and carried off great treasures. This was a mitred abbey of the Benedictine order, the abbots being summoned to parliament in the reign of Henry III.; at the Dissolution its revenue was estimated at £1972. 7. 0¾.; and the conventual church, on the establishment of the see, became the cathedral of the diocese. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., the parliamentary forces under the command of Cromwell, destined for the siege of Crowland, were stationed in the town, where they committed numerous depredations, defacing the cathedral, which they stripped of its plate and ornaments, and pulling down part of the cloisters, the chapter-house, and the episcopal palace, which were sold by order of the parliament.
The city is pleasantly seated on the north side of the river Nene, over which is a wooden bridge, and consists of several regular and well-formed streets. The houses are in general neatly built, and many of them have been modernised in the recent improvements effected under the provisions of an act of parliament passed in 1790: the town is well paved, lighted with gas, and amply supplied with water. About the end of February, 1835, a destructive fire broke out, which consumed about sixty dwellings of an inferior class. The environs are pleasant, and afford much agreeable and diversified scenery. A book society was established in 1730: a small theatre is opened usually in June, for six weeks; and assemblies are held at stated times, generally for the benefit of the dispensary and the national school. The trade is principally in corn, coal, timber, coke, lime, bricks, and stone, the produce of the neighbourhood. The river is not navigable for shipping, but boats pass up to Northampton, where it communicates with the Grand Junction canal; and in the opposite direction, vessels proceed through Wisbech to Lynn, to the former of which packets sail twice a week. A railway from Peterborough to Blisworth, near Northampton, about 48 miles in length, was opened on June 2nd, 1845; and a railway to Ely, 30 miles in length, on January 14th, 1847. An act was passed in 1845 for a railway from Peterborough to the Syston station of the Midland railway, 47¾ miles long: the great London and York railway, also, will pass by the city. The market is on Saturday; and fairs commence on July 9th and October 1st, each for three days, for cattle, timber, and various kinds of merchandise.
The liberty, or soke, of Peterborough is co-extensive with the hundred, and comprises 32 townships and hamlets. The civil government is vested in magistrates chosen by the crown, and in a high-bailiff of the city, appointed by the Dean and Chapter, who are lords of the manor; constables and other officers are elected at the court leet held annually. The city first sent members to parliament in the first of Edward VI., since which time it has regularly returned two: the out-parish, by the act of the 2nd and 3rd William IV., cap. 64, was incorporated with the ancient borough (which comprised only 1300 acres), enlarging the extent to 5953 acres: the high-bailiff is returning officer. Courts of quarter-session, for all offences committed within the soke, are held on the same day as those for the county; there is also a court of record or common pleas, for the recovery of debts to any amount, but in which those above £5 are seldom sued for. The powers of the county debt-court of Peterborough, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Whittlesey, and part of that of Peterborough. The town-hall, erected in 1671, is a neat building, under which is a covered area for the market. There were formerly two small gaols; but in 1839, an act was passed for building a new gaol for the liberty. The great borough fen between Peterborough and Crowland, containing nearly 7000 acres, was, until the year 1815, subject to the pasturage of the cattle belonging to the inhabitants of the soke; it has since that period been inclosed, and a new parish, called Newborough, formed.
The city was anciently included in the diocese of Lincoln, from which, with the counties of Northampton and Rutland, it was separated by Henry VIII., in 1541, and erected into a distinct see; the last abbot of Peterborough was made bishop, and the church of the monastery was appropriated as the cathedral, and the abbot's house as the episcopal palace. By the provisions of the 6th and 7th of William IV., cap. 77, the county of Leicester has been annexed to the diocese. The ecclesiastical establishment consists of a bishop, dean, five canons (to be reduced to four), three minor canons, a master and eight choristers, six singers or lay clerks, an organist, a schoolmaster and an usher, twenty scholars, a steward, and six almsmen. The diocese contains 521 benefices: the bishop has the patronage of the two archdeaconries, the chancellorship, canonries, and six benefices, with an income of £4500; the dean and canons form the chapter, which has the patronage of the minor canonries and seven benefices.
Arms of the Bishopric.